Rajasthan. A place that for years I’d always heard about, but never imagined I’d visit. Really, you must know that I’m a greenery-waterfalls-hiking-swimming-jungle-forest-mountain person, not a desert-hot-creepy men-sand person. Okay okay, I do like the creepy men part—who doesn’t, really—but I never expected to visit this northern state of India known for its brown landscape and desert atmosphere.
So when a co-worker of mine, RK, invited me and a friend to his cousin’s daughter’s wedding in Rajasthan, I immediately thought, heck, I get 10 days off in 6 months here. Why would I visit a desert? But in that auto rickshaw ride home that night, they urged me and I said yes. After all, I hate backing out on promises and was allured at the prospect of visiting a place so far out of my comfort zone, so opposite of what I would choose, and so geographically far away. Plus, I just couldn’t resist another opportunity to spend time in a “real” environment and not a tourist one. So I went.
The stories, of course, are endless, but I’ll try my best to summarize. You know that when you’re riding on a train with 30 various family members for 26 hours one way, you’re going to get to know them very well. Too well? Well immediately we caused a scene at the train station, where members of the family included a super old woman walking slower than the speed of light in a black hole, a midget, and people who knew some English and tried to help me get where I was going, not realizing I was traveling WITH them. We crowded onto the train.
Fights, frenzies, and much food later, the pack of us emerged and boarded three crunched-in vans with our luggage strapped into the top. No, the fights were not with me, yes, that comes out to 10 people per van (comfort is not a thing here), and absolutely yes, some luggage did fall off during the four-hour ride. It was retrieved.
After arriving at our destination with most limbs and necessary brains intact, we emerged to many family members, much hugging, and the Marathi word for “foreigner!” being shouted. We were put into a hotel at the bottom of a temple. That means we got several small, bare rooms to share with a bathroom. I’ll leave the rest to your imagination.
I saw and learned a whole lot in those next few days.
-Expensive weddings mean a whole lot of food, but that doesn’t mean the food is any…cleaner.
-I can make it as a palm reader. I literally had a line of people waiting for me to tell them about their lives. Don’t ask.
-When you spend all day with people for just a few days, and they tell you their deepest, darkest secrets, you feel as though you’re truly part of a family. In a good way, actually.
-People here will go to great lengths to help you, and a good many of them have just beautiful hearts.
-Many men here are sketchy as eep.
-If people in Hubli, India look like they’re from another century, then people in Rajasthan look like they’re from another millennium. Incredible.
-Indians are so lazy (they say this, and I concur for the most part) that they have roads to the top of every mountain. Hiking? Huh?
-It IS possible for roads to disappear and turn into just…sand.
-In addition to Joshua Tree-like rock formations and sands, Rajasthan has beautiful greenery, less litter, and an often-cold climate. Don’t believe the desert hype.
-Yes, I rode a camel (for free, and only because I was a foreigner…sometimes you get lucky).
-Some of the people who knew me would give me their orders of spicy food and take the mild ones. Apparently I can handle it better than most here, but honestly, it’s usually not even spicy.
-Half the girls around the ages of 14 or 15 are already engaged.
-Most marriages are still arranged. My friend didn’t meet his wife until the day he married her. And everyone is still JUST as unhappy in their relationships as they are in America; they just hide their feelings better and are stuck/beaten.
-Monkeys are definitely dangerous.
-Sketchy situations always turn into great adventures. Unless, of course, they turn into, I don’t know, murders?
-Somersaulting down sand dunes is my next professional sport of choice.
The wedding itself was incredible and spanned three days. It was truly an unforgettable experience, as was traveling with this new extended family of mine, who now text me nearly every day. Despite the weird situations, the smelly surroundings, the never-ending stares, and the hot train rides, I did not want to go back to work. This was a trip no tourist could, or would want to, take. I loved (almost) every minute of it.